Nearly two million children die each year from diarrheal diseases,
which account for 17 percent of the deaths of children under five.
Development advocates say much more can be done to reduce those
numbers. But they say governments focus on other diseases that, while
serious, kill fewer children than diarrheal illnesses. In May, two development organizations, WaterAid and PATH, both issued reports outlining the problem and calling for change.
Both NGOs want governments and donors to recognize the seriousness of
diarrheal diseases and to increase financial support to reduce the
They say between 2004 and 2006, only $1.5 billion was
spent on sanitation measures that could curb outbreaks of diarrhea, while 10 times as much went to HIV/AIDS treatment.
But experts say that many more children die of diarrheal diseases than
Money spent on malaria was three times as high as funding for sanitation, though diarrheal illnesses kill twice as many children.
another example, Rwanda has a 3% rate of HIV/AIDS infection, but in
2005 almost 75 % of donor assistance for health was for HIV/AIDS and
two percent for childhood illnesses. Health specialists say that number
is not very different today.
WaterAid and PATH have several recommendations.
They say the international aid system and developing governments must
respond to evidence showing diarrheal diseases as one of the leading
causes of child mortality, and they must target resources appropriately.
means strengthening water and sanitation systems and taking other steps
to prevent the problem, including breastfeeding and oral rehydration
therapy. WaterAid and PATH also suggest the use of vaccines against the
most common and lethal form of diarrheal diseases, rotavirus.
Nancy Bwalya-Mukumbuta is WaterAid's program manager in Zambia.
says much of the government’s funding for anti-diarrheal measures goes
to programs that treat the illnesses. But she says more money should go
to the Environmental Health Department which works to prevent them.
says it should teach the public better hygiene and other sanitation
practices that can help prevent diarrheal illnesses including regular hand
washing. But she says the department’s technicians are not doing a good
job of instruction.
"Currently," she says, "these environmental health technicians are in rural health centers
dispensing medicines and diagnosing disease rather than teaching good
sanitation and hygiene to the community."
Bwalya-Mukumbuta suggests funding for the purchase of vehicles that will help the technicians reach deep into rural areas.
She also says better coordination is needed between various departments of the government.
is a need to coordinate across different sectors," she says.
"We have a Ministry of
Local Government and Housing, which is responsible for water and
sanitation delivery. They are not working closely with the Ministry of
Health, which is responsible for disease prevention and treatment.
like to see an increase in collaboration among the ministries. We also
want to see planning based on information coming out of the Health
Management Information System…. We have a good health information
management system in Zambia, which can be used for planning and
budgeting purposes. So I definitely think this is how to respond to
evidence and to the disease burden."
two reports by WaterAid and PATH say neglecting sanitation undermines
the effectiveness of current health systems. And health specialists
warn that it sets back efforts by Africa to meet the UN Development
Goals, which include cutting child mortality rates in half by 2015.